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Mission Study: Haiti

Haitian Methodist Women and Men Making a Difference

By Linda Beher

Local Haitians are the unsung heroines and heroes of the earthquake recovery story. LeGrace Benson, the scholar who edits the Journal of Haitian Studies, wrote:
There are so many stories … grieving with the mind only and then with the whole body; singing and praying; picking up pieces; burying the dead, morning irrevocable losses; helping an unending surge of the hungry, thirsty, and homeless; raising money with songs and paintings; creating new paintings and songs; and making sure the children would have school and be able to make art. They know how to do this, these Haitians.

Here are portraits of a few Haitians, Methodist sisters and brothers, who in the words of LeGrace Benson, “have been rehearsing and performing this theater since that first act of earthquake and revolution in 1751.”

Many Hats for a Pastor

The Rev. Maude Hippolyte wears many hats in her community in Haiti. She is pastor of l’Eglise Methodiste at Petit-Goave, about 45 miles west of Port-au-Prince. She serves as superintendent of the Petit-Goave district. She is host to many United Methodist volunteer teams that have been working alongside Haitians—many of them from her 24 churches—in recovery from the January 2010 earthquake.

Volunteers from the United States take direction from the local people. The goal is to hire two Haitians for every volunteer. Methodist Haitians, in consultation with their church leaders and overseas partners, decided that one of their top priorities is to restore damaged church buildings. Nine churches were completely destroyed, and 21 were damaged. But in this work they are not only rebuilding structures, they are “rebuilding lives,” in the words of one volunteer from Vashon Island, Wash.

Tom Vencuss, a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission project coordinator working in Haiti, writes, “Within the Haitian culture, so much of the life of a community revolves around the church.” Not only is the church a source of hope and inspiration, in the words of Trinity College professor Leslie Desmangles, himself a native of Haiti, the church is also a center where the people can organize around common problems and agree on solutions. In addition the church provides services to the community that the government does not. L’Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti has operated schools and hospitals in Haiti for many years.

“Feed Our Grandparents”

Pastor Jean Dorcely, of the Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti, has devoted his life to relieving the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of his fellow Haitians in Jeremie. His word for recovery in Haiti: “Feed our grandparents who have no one to care for them. Provide them shelter. Surround them in their last years with a sense of dignity.” In the countryside, a garden is like a bank.

Many humanitarian organizations such as UMCOR are teaming up with denominations such as l’Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti to plant community gardens. The gardens provide work for community members and much needed nutrition, countering a decades-long trend of importing food—nearly half of food consumed comes from outside Haiti. As many as 90,000 Haitians are reportedly growing their own food in small organic plots.

 “Je guérirai son pays”—I will heal their land

Musician, arranger and composer Ernsly Charles is making a difference in his native Haiti both with his own music and encouragement of new music. He has composed original music for the poetry of Emile Roumer. Near the end of 2010 he composed a hit song, “Si mon peuple Haiti,” to remember the earthquake and reaffirm his faith in God, who, in the words of the song, “will heal their land.”

Born in Belledère, Mr. Charles is a member of l’Eglise Methodiste d’Haiti and organist at First Baptist Church located in his Port-au-Prince home. He also plays oboe and piano and leads and plays with several bands including l’orchestre Philharmonie de Ste. Trinite and the 12 Apotres of the Methodist Church of Haiti.

Sources Consulted

LeGrace Benson, “Art, Artists, and Shaking the Foundations,” in M. Munro (Ed.), Haiti Rising: Haitian History, Culture and the Earthquake of 2010. Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2011. Pages 87-95.

Vashon United Methodist Church Mission to Haiti

Last Updated: 04/13/2014

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